Humbled. Chastened. Abashed.
I’m not quite sure what to call it, but I think that is what I felt as I sat at my computer this morning.
It started out simply enough, a quiet cup of coffee together before Tim headed off to work and the kids woke up. We’d been on a family vacation for a few days. The house was a mess and the pantry was bare.
There was work to be done.
I knew I would be busy this day, with home and office work, with emails to answer and send, calls to make and return, pages to read and write. But I thought of how Tim was leaving for work before 7, shaved, showered and dressed – with shoes and socks on even – and how he wouldn’t be back for at least 10 hours. I thought about how most my work could be done in my pajamas and slippers, without ever leaving the comfort of my own home, or car, or neighborhood. In gratitude, I wanted to go the extra mile. As I looked up at him to say goodbye, I said, “Is there anything special I can do for you today, babe?”
I thought he might mention a favorite meal for dinner tonight, something he needed from the market, or a chore he wanted me to do.
Instead he took my hands in his, looked me in the eye and said, “Could you be happy when I get home tonight?”
I laughed and said, “Of course, I’ll do my best!”
And he laughed and kissed me goodbye and left. Within an hour, I had the kids up and all the breakfasts and lunches made and packed. I collected the swimsuits and towels and water bottles and hats and backpacks and fins and got them to their right owners. I applied sunscreen and hugged and kissed and sent my little lifeguards off to their 10th consecutive day at the beach.
And then I stopped and thought, “What did he mean by that?” and then I sat down to write.
Last year, my friend Nanette took me to a two-day seminar called, The Extraordinary Value of a Man. Go ahead and laugh. I know I did when I heard what it was called, but I adore Nanette and would go anywhere and listen to anything just to spend two days with her. I heard many things that weekend that made me uncomfortable as a middle-of-the-road feminist. I hate to hear traditional gender roles and stereotypes discussed as facts. I understand the danger of essentializing genders, of saying, “This is how men are…”, or “This is what women want…” As an academic, I understand how powerful and therefore how damaging those cultural messages can be. But as a woman and a wife, I heard many other things that were true of my husband and myself and the way we relate to each other. So although I think the seminar might have been more appropriately called The Value of an Extraordinary Man (because there is a big difference), one particular line helped me to understand better where this morning’s strange request came from. I had scribbled in the margins of a handout from the weekend,
“When you’re happy, he’s winning.”
Let me clarify; I don’t think it’s strange that Tim wants me to be happy. I do think it’s a little strange that he asked to me to be happy. Generally, I’m a happy person. If you ask people to describe me, my smiley demeanor is one of the first things they will mention. Happiness, at least on the surface, is my default setting.
What I think Tim was really telling me when he left for work today was that he needed a win. When he comes home tonight, what he really wants to know is that what he did all day matters, that I have benefitted from his hard work and effort, from the sacrifices he makes to provide for our family, not just financially, but across the board in every way. He doesn’t want more accolades, or appreciation, or even fawning servitude. He just wants to see me smile. If the kids are smiling as well, that’s even better.
So what about those emotions I mentioned when I sat down to write about this? How could such a simple request bring about such a strong reaction? It certainly wasn’t his intention to make me feel that way and if I know my husband, he’ll apologize as soon as he reads this, even though he simply answered my question.
Tim didn’t call me out. He didn’t criticize me, or admonish me to do more. He simply asked me to be the one thing I claim to be – happy. When I look at my life and the many things I am fortunate enough to have, I don’t know how I could be anything else. We have everything we need, and many things we want. We have health, home, family and friends. We have each other. Are there stresses and worries and things that go wrong? Absolutely. Is there pressure to succeed and perform at ever higher levels? Of course. Are there fights and parenting dilemmas and tension every day? You bet.
Can I still be happy at a certain time (around 5pm), on a certain day (Monday, July 30, 2012), in a certain place (our home)? I am certainly going to try. Depending on what happens at 4:59, making his favorite dinner might have been a whole lot easier. It doesn’t change the fact that my happiness is one of the things he is most proud of. It’s chastening to think that the gift I share so freely with others has not been so freely given in my own home. However, a little humble pie might be just the motivation I need to make it happen tonight and any other night I might forget to be grateful for all that I have.